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March 18, 2014 -
Maintenance and engineering managers trying to ensure the accessibility of institutional and commercial facilities must consider the "usual suspects" —restrooms, entrances and interior paths. But they also must assess a host of other items and elements that can affect the use of a facility by an individual with disabilities.
Although alarms fall into this category, post-9/11 emergency preparedness and safety cannot have a higher priority. Audible alarms are only effective for people who can hear. Where audible alarms exist, ADA access guidelines require the installation of visual strobe alarms. This situation is particularly true in restrooms. Managers should take a serious look at their facilities to ensure that visual strobe alarms accompany audible alarms.
Other items of importance include water fountains and coolers, pay phones, cash machines, and vending machines. When negotiating for the lease, purchase or placement of these items, managers must make sure the items themselves meet ADA requirements.
Managers also must review product information carefully. The presence of an ad or cut-sheet with the international symbol of accessibility does not signify the item meets ADA requirements. There is no Underwriters Laboratory for ADA.
Instead, managers need to ask questions, make sure that the vendor answers them, and be confident that the new water fountain or cooler is compliant. Then make sure it is installed in an accessible location. Nothing is worse than a compliant water fountain located at the top of a set of steps.
Ultimately, managers must be vigilant about the accessibility and safety of their facilities. Using the ADA requirements as a template for that process is an excellent way to ensure a facility is safe and user-friendly for people with disabilities, seniors, parents pushing baby strollers, and even aging baby boomers — basically, everyone who visits a building each day.